Before President-elect Donald Trump takes office this week, take a moment to remember the height of the net neutrality battles of 2014 and 2015. Remember the letter writing campaigns, the comments filed to the Federal Communications Commission (some of them handwritten), remember John Oliver’s rant. Remember that the people fought, and the people won, and for a brief moment, big telecom monopolies had at least some limits placed on them by the federal government.
Remember it now, because very likely, the anti-regulation commissioners of the FCC, reporting to an anti-regulation president, are about to undo the rules millions of Americans fought so hard for. Under Trump, big telecom and its sympathizers will call the shots. …
But the protracted net neutrality legal battle wasn’t for naught. Important seeds were sown during those months of activism that raised public awareness about an important but obscure and relatively complicated telecom regulatory rule that could have easily gone unnoticed were it not for the protests, late-night television coverage, and information campaigns on sites like Reddit.
“Because we have net neutrality now, those seeds are out there,” Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative, told me. “Our biggest enemy is ignorance, so when things go badly and cable bills go up under Trump, and we have to pay more to access certain sites, people will say ‘Wait a minute, this is a violation of net neutrality.’ We’re in such a better position to fight now.”
… For activists, this means supporting legislation like Colorado’s SB17-042, the “Repeal Local Government Internet Service Voter Approval” bill that would remove a restriction requiring local communities to have ballot initiative votes anytime they would like to build internet infrastructure. …
Mitchell is also hopeful that repeal legislation will be introduced in North Carolina. In Tennessee, state Sen. Janice Bowling plans to introduce legislation that would repeal municipal broadband restrictions in the state.
“I’m going to push fiber to the farmer, fiber to the physician, fiber to the scholar, fiber to any person that needs it,” she told me, noting that AT&T lobbied heavily for the law that initially put restrictions. “We’re going to stop [big telecom’s] little game.”
If conservatives on Capitol Hill, at the FCC, and in the White House are willing to deregulate the internet and hope that the free market sorts it out, we will likely see small towns and rural areas continue to be ignored with basic infrastructure that’s necessary to live in a technologically advanced society. Mitchell said “the next four years will be worse than I expected them to be,” but said the net neutrality movement continues to march forward.
“In some ways, it’s nice that there’s no more excuses on the side of those promoting telecom interests. Blackburn and the administration will do what AT&T and Comcast want, and I’m guessing it’ll be a disaster,” he said. “I think that leads to our solutions being more politically popular in a few years.”
It also means that there’s a constant appetite for new broadband companies that are committed to net neutrality. If you’re an entrepreneurial type, it might be a good time to start laying fiber. If you’re an organizer, it’s time to promote politicians and policies that support local competition.